Since then, he's been very upset - things aren't right - he's nervous and tense, not connecting with her (the woman training) and now acts very studdy - he drops whenever he sees another horse even at a distance. She's ridden him once since the incident, briefly at the walk, with someone at his head but he hasn't been right to get on. She's been doing ground work with him, including ground driving, but he's still not right. She hasn't been working him off the snaffle, although he's been carrying it - he's had some trouble with that - lots of fussing and chewing. She's not really sure how to get him past whatever the problem is.
Here he is when he came into the round pen - note his expression and body posture - his head's high, his body's tense and he's on full alert, and although he's compliant his attention isn't inside the round pen:
(Once interesting technique I learned from watching her stand with the horse while she was talking to Mark was this - to softly bring the horse's attention back to you, rather than pulling - or even worse yanking - on the lead, instead, with both palms facing upwards, gently move your hands in a hand over hand motion to redirect the horse's attention - it was effective and very, very soft.)
Mark asked her to do her normal work with him, so she started working him loose in the round pen. Although he would move as she asked, do turns and come into the center as required, he was still very spooky and nervous and acting studdy. Mark had her work him at the trot and pointed out that his breathing wasn't regular - there was no rhythm to it - he would take a breathe, not breathe for a number of strides, take another ragged breath and then there would be another long interval of no breathing. Mark said this wasn't normal - the horse was not breathing properly and was essentially holding his breath for long periods. He asked for the horse to be moved up to the canter, and said that at the canter a horse that is OK on the inside will breathe every stride in a rhythmical way - most horses that have a problem with their breathing - indicating they are not OK inside and therefore carrying a lot of tension in their bodies - will start breathing normally after a few laps since it's harder for them to hold their breaths for long at the canter because of the effort involved.
This horse took over 20 minutes to start breathing normally at the canter in one direction, and when reversed took another 10 minutes or so to establish a rhythm in the other direction. Mark said the point of the round pen work was not to run the horse until he was tired or chase just to chase, but to get done what you wanted and then stop - but don't stop until you get it - not just the behavior you want but the whole picture - because otherwise you're just carrying forward all that tension into all the other work you'll do, and probably reinforcing his idea that he has to be tense, and a horse in this mental condition can be pretty dangerous and unpredictable, even if he appears compliant. It was also important not to drive the horse - there really wasn't any pressure put on the horse - he needed to work through the trauma he had experienced with his rider falling off, using his body to "reset" himself mentally. The whole point was to get him to relax on the inside.
Mark at this point said something that was very interesting to me - he said that we often stop working with the horse just before the change happens that needs to happen - we stop when it's still worse rather than getting through it, which can just reinforce the problem. Sometimes the horse needs to have a fit to make the change - it's OK if your horse has a fit - it means the horse is having to struggle with something. Now this is a difficult matter - to push the horse just so much, but not so far, that it can get through the difficulty and make the change requires a pretty experienced hand. There's a big difference between this and simply over-facing a horse where it can't learn.
Mark said the very long time it took for this horse to breathe normally at the canter was a sign of how incredibly balled up with tension he was on the inside. The horse had trusted us and what we did, had turned over decision making to us and then something that badly frightened the horse happened - he didn't know a rider could fall off - it ruined his trust in us. Once the horse was breathing normally, they stopped doing the loose round pen work - Mark said to do it again later that day or the next day until the horse breathed normally, and then go on to something else. Once the horse breathes normally when you start, there is no need to repeat the exercise any more. Mark said don't repeat stuff that's already learned or done - the horse will think it's doing something wrong and start trying other stuff - no drilling.
They moved on to ground-driving off the halter - the horse's body posture was much better and more relaxed, the studdy behavior went away and he seemed able to listen. Here are some photos of the work they were doing:
At one point, the horse was concerned about something at one end of the round pen, and didn't want to go down to that end - Mark had her continue to keep his feet moving and on each pass to move him a little closer to the scary end, in a gradual way that got the job done without stressing him out. He said it was important to keep the feet moving, because the horse when working with us can't do its normal stop, stare, bolt away and then reapproach behavior to deal with a scary object. He said it's a bit like working cattle - if the cattle keep moving it's OK, if they stop and start to make a plan you're in trouble - action will follow the thought. He said it was important to keep giving him direction - not just correcting him when he went the wrong way - don't leave him to start choosing where to go, because when he did the worry started to come back up. Here's the horse, looking a little more tense, but continuing to follow her direction as he moves away from the scary end of the pen:
On the second day, they started with the loose canter work in the round pen. The horse started off with irregular breathing again, but the exhales were softer blowing and he quickly progressed to breathing every two strides at canter, and soon every stride. His canter was much more fluid, and there was less cross-cantering and counter cantering - Mark said that this was a sign the tension was easing, and the horse was able to feel somewhat better on the inside. Mark commented that on the first day, the horse's head, neck and even his ears were very tight. On the second day the eye and face were softer and the ears were moving normally at the canter - much more normal behavior and even though the horse was still a bit worried he was beginning to open up.
Then they started their work with the snaffle bit. They worked on walking, halt and backing. He struggled a bit, particularly with the backing. The objective in backing was to have him float backwards, but without bracing on the bit, and softly without rushing. The backing was to be 2-beat, not 4-beat, if done correctly. It was important for her to maintain a consistent feel in her hands and move backwards smoothly herself - you want the inside of both horse and handler to move backwards, inside. The horse needs time to struggle through it - make sure you wait for the horse to figure it out. Make sure you complete the task so the horse understands it. You want the horse to be able to figure stuff out - rather than just giving him the answer. It takes time for horses, particularly young horses, to figure things out.
When she was taking a break and standing with the horse in the center of the round pen, he gave a small spook. Mark says that if the horse spooks, he doesn't care if a horse moves its feet or looks, but he does care how well the horse responds and comes back to you. When the horse spooked, he gave an exhale afterwards and the feet didn't move - this was good - a spook followed by he horse holding its breath is not good. This all was a sign the horse was starting to feel better inside.
On the third day, the work was going well enough that she was able to get on and ride for a few minutes. As she mounted, the horse held his head fairly high in the air - but it didn't pop up hard and quick - Mark said if it had, that would have been a red flag not to get on. As the horse moved off, he acted like a horse that had never been ridden before - he wobbled and lurched - Mark said this was abnormal for a horse that had had more than 20 rides and worked at the walk/trot and been on trails. It's like he's had to start completely over in understanding the work. She only rode him for a few minutes and then got off. Mark asked if the horse had been imprinted. The answer was that the horse was imprinted and handled a lot - but not "over-imprinted". Mark said that the incident had been particularly traumatic for a horse all of whose experiences had been positive up to then - he didn't know what to do when he experienced adversity.
Mark said that imprinted horses are often some of the easiest to start - this one was - although sometimes it's harder to get them to move/go. The risk can be that with an imprinted horse, depending on the horse itself and the way it was handled, sometimes the training you're doing doesn't reach the inside even though the horse seems to be doing well - it was just on the surface. This would explain why when the incident happened, the wheels fell all the way off, the horse fell apart mentally, and the horse essentially lost (or never really had) his earlier training. Mark said that he himself stays away from imprinting, and keeps incidental handling of foals to a minimum - you really don't know how much is going inside. He wants his horses to be a little alert and to have a little edge to them.
As with everything Mark says at the clinic, he always adds that his way of doing things isn't the only right way to work with horses, and that he could be wrong about certain things. I've seen him change his mind about how to do things from year to year.
He said that this horse, while far better, was still not out of the woods. He told the handler to not tiptoe around him - this just reinforces that there is a problem - but to make sure she kept herself safe as she worked to bring him back to where he was in the starting process before the incident happened. He asked if the owner was there - she was (I think only for the third day). He asked her about her experience and objectives for the horse. She was basically a beginner, and had hoped that she could take lessons on the horse and learn how to ride. He told her, kindly but with firmness, that she should probably rethink her plan. He said that if he were to work with the horse and get 90 days on him, even then the horse wouldn't be safe for her to ride. She needs to work on her own skills, taking lessons on a safer horse, and should also think about whether a different, more experienced and safer horse would be better for her. It may be a year or even two years before she can consider riding him even if her skills improve with hard work.
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This was one of the most interesting of Mark's clinics that I have attended where I wasn't riding, perhaps because of the variety of horses and riders, and also perhaps because I was trying to pay extra close attention to it all in order to be able to write it up. Thanks for putting up with my almost endless series of very long posts - that's how I think things through - by writing them down.
And that's all - there isn't any more in this series of posts!